"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Monday, 29 April 2013

The Endless Quest for the Perfect Paper

“What and which” must be the most asked questions of any creative teacher or practitioner? What paper do you use, which pencils do you use, which paints, which brushes..? etc.

I am just the same and I have been working as a professional artist for over 40 years. I love to know what other people use and I am still sure there is a magic combination out there that I have yet to find, one which will make my work so much better. Some papers and boards I used years ago have gone, some reappear in an “improved” form which is very seldom improved. My greatest bugbear is the sad loss of the beautiful professional thick white Essdee scraperboard. If anyone has any languishing and unwanted do let me know.

Gearing up for the residency I have spent some time paper testing, to find an all round sketching paper which has a good wet tolerance a nice drawing surface and takes pen and ink.

Here are my tests of 15 different papers with approx the same paint, ink, pencil, pen etc.

and more general notes and trials..

image


My results are not conclusive except to say that all papers are good for something and it’s definitely not the most expensive that will be the best.

I like a hard sized surface for drawing but I don’t like the slippery over-smooth surface of Bristol board.
I do like a slightly textured surface which has enough body to take  a wash. Some papers buckle and return to flat, some papers just buckle. The combinations seem endless. Good for me will be Fabriano Accademia, and Daler Rowney Heavyweight Cartridge, but each still have their limitations.

It’s a constant preoccupation and of course delightful procrastination. One of those “before I get down to real work” activities that can sometimes occupy the whole day The perfect paper is there somewhere, I am sure.  I just wish it would hurry up and make itself known.

(I am also sure the magic glasses are out there too!)

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Boys are Back

I had a really lovely day today with a few of my group at Easton Walled Gardens. The sun shone and everything is growing. I came home and went out into the Garden and for the first time this year saw my bee house springing into life. Just a few beautifully coloured male Mason bees coming in and out of the tubes. Their newly hatched colour glow. I am so very pleased to see them.

image

Mason Bee in……

image

Mason Bee peeping out, his distinctive white moustache clearly visible.

And to add to that a sighting of foxy little female Tawny Mining bee prospecting around the base of the lavender and a few days ago I saw another beautiful dark russet and black bee which I now think just might be an Osmia cornuta… no photos yet..

And of course having seen the male Hairy Footed Flower bee.. the females have arrived they have to be one of my very favourite bees. What busy and purposeful girls they are. Not easy to photograph as they barely stop at each flower.

image

Hopefully better photos of all to come. But my joy is unconfined to see them back!

Wild things …you make my heart sing! :)

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Tuesday Walk and the Humming Pollen Tree

The morning is glorious, new corn shoots mist the rolling fields with pale green. There are tiny flitting chattering birds who fly alongside me, white, yellow and multicoloured butterflies, more and more bees, many beeflies and tiny dancing black flies.

In one of my favourite secluded sun drenched spots I find a willow, heavy with pollen laden catkins covered with bees and butterflies. I stop for a while to watch. To watch and listen, to the bees collecting pollen, to an owl in the nearby wood, to see the drifting shape of a buzzard pass overhead, to watch a flame tailed bumble bee collecting moss, to see the delicate long-nosed beeflies hover and dart.

image

A pollen drenched honey bee

image

A high flying buzzard

image

 Bombus lapidarius collecting moss

image

A Peacock Butterfly

image

A little solitary bee at the field edge

 

It’s a much loved place of mine, on an old road. In its summer flora it reveals odd traces of cultivation and there is a stand of ancient oaks nearby.

image
My sketch of the Humming Willow Tree on the old path, with its glowing catkins set against the dark leafless hedges and trees. There are a few hints of green appearing in the nearby hawthorn branches. Watercolour 5 x 7 inches.

I might choose this willow to be my main tree this year. Willows become more and more fascinating the more you learn about them. But today is a day to be out, to forget your troubles, to be warmed by the sun and cooled by a spring breeze.

On the way back I passed the place where a big dead tree fell across the path last year. It has now been chopped back leaving a waving stump. From one angle it looks like a cheery waving figure.. Old Man Tree we call it.

image 

Waving Cheerfully on this lovely day.. Old Man Tree

Monday, 22 April 2013

The White of Blackthorn

Things are beginning to blossom. White magnolia in the garden, white wild cherry blossom and in the hedges the white splashes of Blackthorn.

It has to be one of the most beautiful sights of English spring country lanes. Dark leafless hedges decorated with a froth of white blossom. The leaves will come later.

I walked by the reservoir today and along with pussy willows and first green shoots was a patch of blackthorn, one ball of white flowers against dark spiny branches.


image

Monday …White blackthorn flowers.. Watercolour 6” x 6”

Further along the track is a big oak tree.. leafless so far but lovely in its skeletal form. There is a large nest box. I have yet to find out what it is for!

image

And back in the Empty Garden good wildlife news, the hedgehog has reappeared, along with 4 different butterflies, yellow, white, a peacock and a comma, more  redtailed bees and the lovely black female hairyfooted flower bee.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Yes! A Hairy Footed Flower bee, BBKA and more bees

A couple of days ago I saw my very first male Hairy Footed Flower Bee of this year.. and actually the first in this garden. Last year I bought some pulmonaria, one of the HFFB’s favourite flowers.This year it struggled into bloom and sure enough here comes this very lovely little bee, darting in with his characteristic flight and unmistakable high pitched buzz. This evening he was back and I rushed to get my camera and luckily was able to get a couple of shots. It was 5.30 pm. You can see his handsome white moustache and in the second shot his white face.

image

I wonder if the colony in the strawberry pot survived the winter and I look forward to seeing the smart females, all black with ginger legs, whose flight is so purposeful and who look like little black bombs as they zigzag from flower to flower.

Paint a Bee Workshop for the BBKA
Last weekend I was at Harper Adams Agricultural University for the British Beekeepers Association annual conference. It’s a huge event with lectures and demos and  teaching. I was there to give  2 “Paint a Bee “workshops. Bees are really not the easiest things to paint, and it was wonderful to have 2 fully subscribed classes. Thanks to all who came and made the day so enjoyable. 

image

I talked to many beekeepers, some with just one or two hives and some with hundreds. It was fascinating to hear about their experiences successes and failures. They are a welcoming and inclusive bunch of people. We are lucky to have them. How well the bees came through this bad winter is not yet known. I think many of them are just keeping everything crossed!

More Bees

Here in the Empty Garden I have not yet seen a honey bee but I am pleased to report lots of big Bombus terrestris queens. Today I also saw a beautiful Bombus pratorum queen and the funny little bee fly. The colours of the new queens are so vivid.

At the weekend though I found a sad and bedraggled bee struggling to keep going. She was just about moving but a long way from any food. It had been raining and was very windy which must be tough conditions for bees. The only thing I had in bloom then was a patch of winter heather and that’s where I put her, after  warming her up on my hand. Bees are often reluctant to leave a safe warm hand but she had to go and get some fuel. It was nice to watch her finding food and eventually being able to fly away. I wish her well.

bee on my hand bg

There is definitely a bit of an Ahhhh factor to this photo!

I hope all your bees are beginning to buzz wherever you are.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Early April Willow Sketches

Last week I had my first sketching walk of the year, not so much a walk as a stagger, but it was good just to get out in some almost warm sun. I went down to the nature reserve where they have been cutting back the willows. There is a curious look to the landscape. Fallen trees, half cut down trees, old pollards with new shoots and new pollards with nothing but stumps. The willows rise up out of swampy ground and there is an odd feeling of desolation, of a war torn landscape reminding me of some of Paul Nash’s bleak paintings. But here, rather than destruction, it is just life on hold, just waiting to get going again.

In fact you have to admire willows for their vigour and ability to regenerate after even the most severe pruning. In the sun the stems glow yellow, purple and greeny brown. Some are almost orange. There were a few catkins here and there.

willows1bg

willows2bg

pollarded 1bgpollarded 2 bg

The stumps of newly pollarded trees and below the exuberant growth of whips from an old trunk.

 willow branches bg 


The old fallen willows are covered with an abundance of moss. In amongst the moss bracket fungi grow. Beautiful delicate things. I liked the shapes, the points of the fern fronds, the waved edges of the fungi and the random placement of twigs and one leaf.

moss sketch bg moss bg

These were made a week ago on the 8th. I am sure things will have moved on by now. With more of a promise of Spring I will be out again very soon.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Life at Last: Bees, birds and frogs

It was actually warm on Saturday ..yes warm! There was real sun and there were real shadows and at last… Hurrahhh … bees. I was beginning to wonder if any of my local bees had made it through.  First a huge Buff Tailed Bumble Bee queen finding what she could in the bare garden. I have a few crocus but not much else for such a big bee. I hope she is finding more elsewhere.

Then in the conservatory window my first little solitary bee. My bee guru Alan has said possibly Andrena bicolor or  Andrena nigroaenea. Whatever he was, I was very pleased to see him.

 

The Wild Bird Cherry is in blossom and I am sure that’s where he was heading.

bird cherry

Yes real blue sky!

Then in the pond, amazingly, 4 frogs who serenaded us all day. These are our first ever spring frogs. Last year we created the pond, which we populated with tadpoles from my sister’s pond in Lincoln. Then we had many tiny froglets and now the returning adults. How delightful!

 

Lincolnshire frogs doing well in Cambs…

There is also some very VERY pretty singing from the blackbirds.
You might almost believe that Spring has arrived!